What makes a good book?

I was trying to figure out what to write about today and was looking through a list of quotes that I’ve written down over the years and saw that I have four quotes from a book I read a few years ago that I absolutely hated.  (I won’t name the book here – it’s been out for quite some time and I think part of the reason I hated it is that what seemed groundbreaking when it was released some forty years ago is not anymore, so all of the other elements of the book that were not that great come to the forefront.)

So, I hated this book.  I forced myself to finish it.  I would never recommend this book to anyone.  And yet, I wrote down four quotes from this book.  Good quotes.  Funny ones, profound ones, ones that showed insight into life and people.  Ones that made me dig into my backpack to find a pen and paper so I wouldn’t lose them.  Which means that, on some level, that author spoke to me.

It reminds me of reading How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton.  I loved that book.  Loved it.  My copy of that book has whole passages underlined or starred.  There may even be exclamation points next to certain passages, it was that good.  And it inspired me to go out and buy In Search of Lost Time by Proust (note the lack of hyperlink).  I could not get into that book.  Oh, it was painful.  I knew there were great insights and discoveries awaiting me in Proust – de Botton had written a whole book dedicated to them – but I simply could not struggle through it.  I tried.  More than I would have normally, but I just couldn’t do it.

So, if Proust inspired de Botton to write such a fantastic book does that mean that Proust wrote a good book?  Even if it’s a book that’s described as “almost a byword for obscurity and irrelevance” on de Botton’s website?  What about the book-which-shall-not-be-named that I hated?  It’s still talked about forty years later.  I pulled four quotes from it.  Is it a good book?

I don’t know.  I know I won’t use any quotes from that book I hated here or anywhere else, because I don’t want to be responsible for someone else reading that book.  But I also suspect it will still be talked about long after most of the books on my shelf that I would share with someone are out of print and forgotten.

Anyway.  A random thought for the day.  I’m off tomorrow to go white water rafting and help a friend celebrate jumping out of a perfectly good airplane for the 100th time.  (Sometimes it’s good to just step away from the computer.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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